- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — President Bush yesterday failed to win unanimous support among the 34-nation Summit of the Americas for his proposal to establish a free-trade zone from Alaska to Argentina, but he successfully muted a call by Venezuela’s president to “bury” the pact.

The summit, created in 1994 with a central goal of creating the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), ended late yesterday with a split on moving forward. Twenty-nine countries said they want to resume negotiations in 2006, while five others — Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela — insisted on waiting for results of the next World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong in December.

In the declaration, the five dissenting countries stated: “The conditions do not exist to attain a hemispheric free-trade accord that is balanced and fair with access to markets, that is free of subsidies and distorting practices.”

National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Brazil last night that despite the split, the United States was able to convince some former skeptics that the pact should not be scrapped.

“It’s not deadlocked,” Mr. Hadley said. “We went from a summit which was supposed to bury FTAA to a summit … in which all 34 countries actually talk in terms of enhanced trade and an FTAA.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the self-proclaimed leader of a socialist revolution, rallied more than 25,000 protesters Friday, vowing to “bury” the FTAA.

Mr. Hadley said the final declaration from the summit should not be viewed as a U.S. defeat because it includes a majority stance that more discussions will be held on the free-trade pact.

“There is nothing in stone that says every time leaders get together they have to have a summit communique,” he said.

Mr. Bush left the summit about 3:30 p.m. local time for Brazil, but top White House officials remained behind for the negotiations. The president did not attempt to force the issue, but he has been a staunch advocate of free trade as a vehicle for creating jobs and alleviating poverty worldwide.

“His approach is to not to try and dominate, but to participate as one of equals and listen, and that’s what he did,” the national security adviser said. “At critical times, he made his views obviously clear.”

Mexican President Vicente Fox yesterday expressed irritation with Mr. Chavez, who has sought to speak for other leaders as he pushes for the creation of a trade zone just for Latin America and the Caribbean based on socialist ideals.

“This is a personal position of the Venezuelan president,” Mr. Fox said. He also denied accusations by Mr. Chavez that Washington was trying to strong-arm the region into a free-trade agreement.

“No one has ever been forced into a free-trade deal,” he said.

If created, the FTAA would rival the European Union as the world’s largest, but its creation has been stalled for years amid bickering over U.S. farm subsidies and other obstacles. There had been hopes that the stalled talks could resume as early as April 2006, but many of the hemisphere’s leaders agreed that other trade and economic talks already scheduled should take place before resuming negotiations on FTAA.

“While that is being worked out, we are moving forward on bilateral and regional agreements, such as the ones with Chile and the Central American countries, and working to advance the Doha round, which would trump the FTAA,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told The Washington Times yesterday.

Chilean President Ricardo Lagos said differing views over how to proceed persisted at the two-day summit in this Argentine seaside resort. Officials were still working on a final declaration and talks extended hours after a deadline.

“The point of contention is if the conditions are there for us to negotiate. A great majority said ‘Yes,’ but others said ‘Let’s wait‘“until the WTO meeting, he said.

Mar del Plata was calm yesterday, a day after protesters opposed to Mr. Bush’s presence clashed in street battles with riot police, burning and ransacking businesses just 10 blocks from the theater where the summit opened. Sixty-four persons were arrested, but police reported no deaths or major injuries.

Mr. Bush’s visit today in Brazil is the second part of a Latin American trip that also will include a stop in Panama tomorrow.

Ahead of his arrival in Brazil, police in Sao Paulo fired tear gas and used batons to disperse a crowd of about 1,000 people protesting in the city center against Mr. Bush’s visit.

The march began peacefully with protesters shouting “Go home, Bush!” as they streamed along a main business district boulevard.

When Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush traveled by motorcade to their hotel last night, there was only a small group of protesters near the airport entrance, and the streets were virtually empty.

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